Russian analysts are beginning to wonder whether Moscow has grown tired of Chechnya’s ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov, and wants to replace him. Recent attacks on human rights activists in Chechnya received unusually wide and negative media coverage in Russia, even though years of routine rights violations in the republic, documented by human rights activists, were routinely ignored.
A reporter for the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, Yulia Kalinina, says it is extremely hard to receive a proper answer to the simple question “what is going on in Chechnya now?” Chechen officials say all is well in the republic, while ordinary people either keep quiet or ask journalists not to use their names. One such anonymous person told Moskovsky Komsomolets that the customs by which Chechen people lived for centuries are routinely broken now. One such example was the scandalous marriage of a 57-year-old Chechen police chief, Nazhid Guchigov, to a 17-year-old, Luiza Goilabieva. According to Chechen customs, marriage is a delicate family matter. After his marriage proposal became top news in Russia, Guchigov reportedly wanted to break it off, but Kadyrov insisted that he go ahead with the marriage. The public denigration of people who are much older than Kadyrov himself is another important violation of Chechen customs. “From time to time people are scolded for various things on local TV,” the anonymous Chechen told Kalinina. “It looks absolutely disgusting. Chechens never had such a custom when someone would be publicly admonished. This is an especially humiliating thing to do in regard to seniors” (Moskovsky Komsomolets, June 10).
Rights activist Sergei Babinets who worked in Grozny prior to the destruction of his organization’s office, said that “people walk around the city without lifting their heads, but rather look down. You walk around the city and you literally cannot catch a single glance, because people look down.” Chechen authorities orchestrated a public protest that turned into the violent destruction of the office of Russian rights activists in Grozny. Moreover, the republican government appeared to be playing the nationalist card, given that the protest was meant to be against the April killing of Jambulat Dadaev by Russian police in Grozny. It was unclear though why Russian rights activists should be held responsible for the actions of Russian police (Svoboda.org, June 14).
Chechnya has become almost the second most important topic in the Russian news after the war in Ukraine. In Russia’s government controlled and orchestrated media, such trends do not happen spontaneously, but are normally carefully orchestrated. Since Chechen servicemen close to the government of Ramzan Kadyrov were implicated in the killing of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov last February, the Chechen issue has frequently topped the Russian news (Komsomolskaya Pravda, April 30). The conflict between the Russian police and Kadyrov over the killing of Dadaev in Grozny, the scandalous marriage of the Chechen police chief, the misbehavior of Chechen drivers in Moscow, the attacks on Russian civil activists in Grozny and other such incidents have featured prominently in the coverage of Chechnya. Such incidents are not fabricated: rather, it seems as if Moscow suddenly decided to scrutinize the activities of Chechen authorities. Even the most closely guarded part of the relationship between Moscow and Chechnya, the financial side of it, has been put in the spotlight.
Chechnya is set to receive this year a budgetary subsidy from Moscow larger than any other Russian region, even including the freshly annexed and highly prized territory of Crimea. Chechnya is set to receive the equivalent of about $370 million; Crimea is expected to collect $320 million while the city of Sevastopol will receive $100 million. More interestingly, the Russian authorities started to display keen interest in the Ahmad Kadyrov Fund, named after Ramzan Kadyrov’s father. The fund is reportedly replenished through compulsory deductions from the salaries of Chechen government employees. Despite the fact that the fund is charitable and non-profit, it is used to found companies that control most real estate in the republic, participate in government tenders and even sell alcohol. The fund was established back in 2004, but never has been audited (Moskovsky Komsomolets, June 10).
Given the current dire economic situation in Russia and the fact that the country’s economy is projected to decline still further, Moscow may well be looking for a cheaper version of Kadyrov. However, the primary concern of Russian officials and politicians appears to be the disproportionate administrative and military power that Ramzan Kadyrov has accumulated.
Moskovsky Komsomolets’ Kalinina plausibly points out that Moscow does not really care what the people in Chechnya think or feel. What Moscow cares about is the increase in power of the regional authorities. According to the Russian journalist, if the Chechen authorities’ influence crosses the republican border and starts affecting other regions of the Russian Federation, a third Russian-Chechen war will be inevitable. Kalinina writes that Russian officials in the presidential administration are divided between those who think that Kadyrov will remain loyal to Moscow and those who distrust Kadyrov and think he could rebel against the Kremlin (Moskovsky Komsomolets, June 10).
Kadyrov and Moscow appear to be on a collision course. The Chechen side would clearly be weaker in such a collision, but the Russian state’s capacity is also projected to diminish, given that the country is facing economic hardship and international pressure over its aggressive actions against Ukraine. The longer the Chechen issue dominates the Russian media, the more likely there could be a dramatic resolution of the conflict between Moscow and Grozny.